Those who justified storming the Capitol
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Those who justified storming the Capitol

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

In 2012, I ran for Congress and lost. 

I had no regrets. It was one of the greatest, most educational experiences of my life. The best part was meeting the vastly different ethnicities of my district and doing my best to show them friendship and respect. In Paterson I got to know the Arab-American and Palestinian-American community, many of whom made it clear to me they would never vote for me. But I was moved when they told me I had shattered their negative views of rabbis and pro-Israel activists. In Palisades Park I spent much time with the Korean-American community and listened to their unending pain about the Korean “comfort women” of the Second World War, and I made recognition of that atrocity by the Japanese government a central plank of my campaign.

But my concerted efforts to win constituents to my cause failed, and Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at approximately 10 p.m., I delivered my concession speech. It was arguably the best of my campaign. I delivered it with the pain of loss but with the inspiration of knowing that as an American I had lived my dream of running for public office. I spoke of the miracle of the democratic process, and how, ironically, only the pain of losing affords you the opportunity to fully bow to the majesty of the will of the people by conceding.

It took me a few weeks to get over my loss, but I was always proud of how I comported myself through the agony of defeat.

President Trump deserves the gratitude of the American Jewish community for his unprecedented support for the Jewish state and his fight against BDS and the Israel haters, especially on campus. If only he had not seen his loss to Joe Biden in the presidential election as making him into “a loser,” the thing he most hates in the whole world.

He could have taken just pride in having protected Arab children in Syria when they were gassed by Bashar al Assad, something that President Obama chose to ignore. He could have taken pride in having punished Iran for its ongoing genocidal plans against Israel and the Jewish people and stopped America from providing billions of dollars to a government that hangs LGBTQ citizens from cranes in public squares and stones women to death. He could have taken pride in having defeated ISIS, killing terrorist mastermind Qassim Soleimani, and, most of all, in having reshaped the Middle East with peace deals between Israel, Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan, and Morocco. He could have taken pride for standing up for a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong against an oppressive Chinese government. And he could have taken pride in Operation Warp Speed, which developed a vaccine against the coronavirus in record time, a vaccine that is now saving lives all over the world, and most quickly in Israel.

But because he saw himself as a loser after falling to Joe Biden in the election, and because there is nothing worse to him than being a loser, he decided to make his greatest mistake of all: telling his followers he had not lost the election and they should show strength by marching on the Capitol building.

I was shaken to my core by the storming of the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate last week. I was outdoors at a small ski run near our home, and I immediately stopped to make a video for our 1.25 million social media followers to condemn the rioters’ actions as an American abomination.

Late at night I did several lengthy live video broadcasts to thousands of viewers, where I expressed how I never could have imagined something like that happening in the United States. We are the beacon of freedom and light of liberty to the world. These vile thugs had desecrated our country and humiliated America before the entire world. Far worse, innocent lives were taken at the attackers attempted a bloody insurrection against the government of the United States.

It didn’t take long for vicious attacks on me to start. 

From those who said it was antifa and not Trump supporters who stormed the capitol. From those who asked how could I as a Jew and lover of Israel condemn Trump followers who had stood with the Jewish state through all of the President’s pro-Israel policies.  They agreed that the Nazi wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt was a monster. But, they said, those who actually attacked Congress were leftist extremists who had pre-planned to make the president and his followers look odious. As for those who admitted it was Trump supporters who rampaged through the capital, they argued that it was their right to do so, while conceding that there should have been no violence or destruction of property. “Congress is the people’s house,” they said. “They had every right to enter. Who are the police or the lawmakers to stop the people from entering their own capitol? All those politicians work for us.”

Scores of people began unfriending me and ceasing to follow me on Instagram and Facebook. Some said Obama’s Iran deal was much worse and Trump had saved us from legitimizing Iran’s nuclear program, a far greater threat to American democracy than broken windows in the capitol.

As I read these comments, I wondered what was worse. A direct assault on American democracy or the inability of American citizens to ever rise above partisanship and condemn that which is absolutely horrible and wrong.

Or maybe they are the same thing.

For the past four years we all have witnessed America become two teams, like the Red Sox and the Yankees. Neither side will give an inch. But politics and the future of our country is infinitely more serious than sports.

When Trump protects Arab lives in Syria, rather than giving him credit the Trump haters still say he is the world’s foremost Islamophobe. And when Trump refuses to concede an election that his own appointed judges and attorney general say he lost, his supporters continue to say that Biden stole the election.

There is nothing wrong with two teams in America, opposing political parties, even as George Washington himself condemned its development in his final address as president. Washington is the father of our democracy, and still he was wrong. I have no desire to live in a one-party state like China or Russia. Peaceful political opposition is key to a functioning democracy.

But once partisanship corrupts basic values, once being a conservative or liberal redefines right and wrong, we’re all in trouble.

So, let’s say it strong and let’s say it loud. President Trump needlessly damaged American democracy by denying the election results, and his supporters engaged in a wicked and violent and abominable assault on the Capitol. I mourn the lost lives. I lament that the president’s legitimate achievements – especially in the Middle East – have now been so seriously tarnished. But most of all, to paraphrase Jefferson, I shudder for my country.

An assault on government in the greatest democracy on earth will not soon be forgotten. It has shaken our country to its core.

There is no excuse, no buts, no “but what about when the Democrats… ” blah blah blah. If we cannot condemn appalling action, we have lost our moral compass, not to mention our right to be the light of liberty to the world. Do we really want to hear Erdogan lecturing America about calming tensions and protecting democracy, as he did last week?

In the coming weeks we will have to unpack all of these confusing things, like Twitter suspending the president’s account permanently for inciting violence while allowing Ayatollah Khameini’s account – which calls for the genocide of the Jews – to remain.

But for now, America is desperately in need of healing and desperately in need of rising above disgusting and stomach-turning partisanship and becoming “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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